Outsmarted by Sudan

By Jim Hoagland (THE WASHINGTON POST, 18/11/07):

Murder, arson and rape do not suffice as weapons in Sudan’s campaign against the civilians of Darfur. Khartoum also plays the race card to block outsiders from coming to Darfur’s rescue.

No, Sudan’s rulers have no shame in pursuing what since 2004 the U.S. government has labeled and tolerated as «genocide.» And they now have few obstacles left to crushing resistance in the rebellious western province, where conflict and atrocity have left nearly half a million people dead and displaced 2 million more, according to the United Nations.

Give these all-too-human devils their due: By lying, stalling and relying on a warped sense of racial solidarity both with Arab countries and post-colonial African nations, the Sudanese have kept the initiative and kept the world off balance. They have stymied the United Nations and the United States and are on the edge of winning in Darfur — a reality that is rapidly sinking in here and in world capitals.

Washington’s response to the spreading collapse of Darfur’s last, best hope for significant international help is a long-delayed urgency that risks being too little, too late. President Bush and his senior foreign policy aides are finally doing things they should have done months ago.

U.S. efforts center on the 26,000-member U.N.-authorized peacekeeping force that is supposed to deploy into Darfur starting Jan. 1. It would replace a much smaller African Union contingent that has been unable to protect itself or civilians from government-backed tribal militias or the rebels in a conflict that turns on ethnicity, land resources and politics, with religious aspects thrown in.

The principal members of Bush’s National Security Council met Nov. 9 and decided — finally — to press America’s allies in Africa and the Middle East at the highest levels of government to contribute soldiers and materiel to the force, I am told by multiple sources.

The urgent need, U.N. officials underline, is for modest numbers of transport and assault helicopters with trained crews. Countries that have received large amounts of U.S. military aid — Egypt comes instantly to mind — should be able to fill that need, especially if Washington conditions future aid on helping in Darfur now.

The White House meeting followed an Oct. 30 telephone call from Bush to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in which the president pointedly asked what progress was being made in assembling the new force. Washington now wonders if Ban has erred in investing much of his first year in office in coaxing the Sudanese rulers into pointless meetings and commitments that they gradually undo.

Khartoum is backtracking on the makeup of the force, which U.N. officials have carefully designed to be effective and to be able to protect itself. African nations have promised 17 battalions, many of which lack sufficient equipment and training for the mission. To supplement them, the United Nations also recruited a special-forces contingent from Nepal, engineering units from Europe’s Nordic countries and a crucial infantry battalion from Thailand that is ready to deploy and to establish defensive positions for the units that would follow.

But Sudanese officials are suddenly insisting that the infantry units all come from Africa, and they are stalling on accepting the Nepalese commitment. Their record makes clear their intent: to block the U.N. force altogether or to make it vulnerable to coercion or destruction by the militias.

The Sudanese cloak their obstructionism in anti-imperialist, anti-foreign rhetoric: Intervention in Darfur is a front for white powers again lusting for African conquests. It is an old and shabby trick but one that still has currency in African and Middle Eastern lands traumatized by the colonial era.

Sudan is a vast African country dominated by its Arabized northern elite. It thus plays on both Arab and African resentments born of the past while managing to pit them against each other. For the ancient nation-state of Egypt to have its hands tied by the self-serving rationalizations of Khartoum is a travesty of history and of power politics.

If Bush is sincere about finally doing everything possible to rescue Darfur, he will press the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Chad and other nearby nations to provide meaningful materiel support for the United Nations and to exert pressure on Khartoum to allow the deployment of an effective U.N. force on schedule.

America’s allies may not comply, and the U.N. force may be stillborn. But then Washington will have every reason and responsibility to make clear to the people of Darfur and the world exactly which countries failed them in extremis.